The tenor of No. 8 TCU’s game and season changed before the Frogs took the field today. Thanks to No. 3 Oklahoma’s stunning home loss to Iowa State, TCU’s date with No. 23 West Virginia changed from a challenge for a Big 12 College Football Playoff front-runner to a survive-and-advance test for the Big 12 College Football Playoff front-runner.
The Frogs survived, outlasting a physical West Virginia team for a 31-24 win in Fort Worth.
Trailing 3-0 late in the first quarter, TCU booted away its third punt of the day but was gifted the ball right back when a Mountaineer player blocked a TCU defender into West Virginia punt returner Jovanni Stewart, which TCU’s Vernon Scott recovered at the West Virginia 33-yard line. The Frogs punched in their only score of the first half on a 2-yard direct-snap keeper by Sewo Olonilua at the 14:16 mark of the second quarter.
After a field goal of their own to open the third quarter, Nick Orr intercepted a Will Grier overthrow and returned it 34 yards to the West Virginia 45, and Kenny Hill (15-of-28 for 188 yards, seven carries for 28 yards) pushed the lead to 17-3 on a rainbow to Jalen Reagor one play later.
However, two deep strikes from Greer pulled the Mountaineers even. The first one came on a mix-up in the TCU secondary, where Greer hit a wide open David Sills for a 64-yard score. His very next pass found Ka'Raun White for a 76-yard catch-and-dash, and less than five minutes after trailing 17-3 West Virginia had tied the game at 17-17.
TCU answered with its best drive of the game, a 4-play, 75-yard march completed when Hill raced in a 48-yard score on a throwback from KaVontae Turpin, giving the Horned Frogs a 24-17 lead with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
An exchange of punts gave West Virginia the ball at the TCU 49, and a series of Justin Crawford (19 carries for a game-high 111 yards) runs set up Grier’s (25-of-45 for 366 yards) third touchdown pass of the second half, a 4-yarder to Sills, knotting the game at 24-24 with 9:50 remaining.
TCU see-sawed back in front with, if not its best possession of the season, then its most important. The Frogs ate 70 percent of the remaining clock, using six minutes and 57 seconds to travel 65 yards over 13 plays, eight of them runs. The final run came on a 3-yard keeper by Hill, who avoided two blockers to stretch across the goal line on 3rd-and-goal, staking the Frogs to a 31-24 lead with 2:53 to play.
Needing a touchdown to extend the game, West Virginia momentarily advanced near midfield, but an offensive pass interference penalty turned what was a first down completion to Sills into a 1st-and-25 at their own 25. The Mountaineers advanced to the TCU 32 but moved no further, and TCU expired the clock after West Virginia turned it over on downs.
The loss dropped West Virginia to 3-2 on the season and 1-1 in Big 12 play, meaning they will likely fall out of the polls tomorrow even though they showed themselves every bit worthy of their No. 23 ranking in challenging the No. 8 team in their house.
TCU (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) will now rest up from this physical game for another physical test at Kansas State next week.